January 14, 2014

Fortune Favors the Bold (Pt 2)

In his State of the State (SOTS) address, our Sonofa Governor Andrew Cuomo touched on many subjects; see my summary here. One of the things that he specifically mentioned was the uncommon collaboration between Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney.

Cuomo is familiar with both women. Miner is the co-chair of New York's Democratic Committee, and in her role as our 53rd mayor she's frequently butted heads with the governor on financial issues, among other things.  Mahoney, a Republican, participated on Cuomo's transition team and is also a member of his Moreland Commission to clean up Albany. Here's what he had to say about our leaders:
And there is a ray of hope because there are local leaders who are stepping up to the plate and I would like to take a moment to recognize the great Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and the Mayor of Syracuse Stephanie Miner who are working together. They are working together to see if they can achieve consolidation and shared services between Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse. We wish them well and we hope other leaders follow their example because that is exactly the right course. 
Well, today we learned that things aren't always perfect with our Dream Team.  The topic that has them on opposite sides, at least for now? Building a new sports facility in Syracuse, primarily for SU.  This article provides a lot of the details on the proposed project, which Mahoney has been working on for a while. Here are some highlights of the deal, now not expected to go through:
  • perhaps as much as $200 million in state funding, through an agreement with Cuomo, to go towards a half-a-billion dollar project slated for the old Kennedy Square neighborhood sandwiched between the University Hill medical complex and Water Street.  That area is already being developed as part of Upstate's seemingly endless appetite for expansion and SU's Connective Corridor initiative
  • a commitment from the developer of the site to look to get an additional one million square feet of mixed development (residential and retail) near the area for the stadium
  • contributions from SU, the 'major tenant', and from the County Legislature towards the project
  • a private company to manage the facility.

Given their prior collaborative efforts it seems uncharacteristic that Miner was only brought in towards the end, after much had already been put into motion but Mahoney admitted that was the case. She also indicated that Miner balked, stating
I see this as a tremendous opportunity for the whole region, but I don't want to do it over the mayor's objections.  At the end of the day, she is the mayor and she gets to set her priorities.  My priorities, or the state's priorities, or Syracuse University's priorities for the city don't take precedence over the mayor's priorities. 
Those priorities for the city are mundane things, like replacing 100-year-old water mains before any more of them burst; new police cars, which are being replaced more slowly than they likely should be; mandatory water treatment initiatives; repairs to existing recreational facilities actually used by city residents, as opposed to a stadium that would only be visited by city residents.

I'm sure those priorities also include trying to do something about our neighborhoods and nearly 2000 abandoned properties; our schools; fighting crime; providing services in a city that's close to 50% untaxable, and all those other things that mayors are supposed to worry about.

Miner will undoubtedly have further conversations with Mahoney; she did send questions to SU chancellor Kent Syverud, which you can read here.  Syverud, on his second official day as chancellor, issued a statement, including these wise words:
I would hope that no community leader, including me, would be criticized for asking relevant questions before reaching a decision. 
I couldn't agree more.

Frankly, I'm astonished that Mahoney, the Legislature and all of the other interested parties cooked up this plan without engaging the city - I mean, I can only imagine what Joanie would think if I got together with her neighbors and came up with a plan to put a gazebo in her back yard, then presented her with about 70% of the details and said "Come on Joanie, let's go!" I expect I'd be met with a 'lack of enthusiasm' don't you?

To Cuomo's point in the SOTS, let's hope that other leaders who are looking to follow Miner and Mahoney down the path of collaboration don't take this little misstep as a sign that partnering with other jurisdictions - we have over 10,000 of them in New York, after all -- is the wrong way to go.  It's absolutely the right way to go, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it here in Central New York.

And to his point that 'fortune favors the bold', one of things that sticks out the most on this is the 'bold' hand of the Governor, the hand that guides things behind the scenes and then presents them for everyone to take in when he's done, whether they like it or not. Reminds me of the old adage, if you can't play nice, pick up your toys and leave.

If  Onondaga County ends up losing hundreds of millions of dollars because Cuomo and Mahoney failed to engage a critical stakeholder, and chose instead to plop a gazebo in the middle of that stakeholder's back yard, shame on them.

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